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Decision-making when the chief decision-maker is unwell

Boris Johnson clapping outside 11 Downing Street in London on Thursday Credit: PA

With Boris Johnson in intensive care, the role of leading the UK government's approach to the coronavirus pandemic has fallen to the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.

He doesn't have quite the same authority as the Prime Minister however and the big decisions will be made by cabinet ministers collectively.

Number 10 says that the government has a clear plan and structure in place. It says the Foreign Secretary and the cabinet have the authority and the ability to respond to developments in the Prime Minister's absence.

There's an established structure centred on daily morning meetings at 9.15 and a series of cabinet sub-committees for making the biggest decisions.

But those decisions are immense and need to be taken urgently so what does it mean for those pressing for clarity, say, on any extension to the lockdown period?

The First Minister has called for an urgent meeting this week of Cobra, the nickname given to the UK Government's emergencies committee but which has been expanded to include the leaders of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The role of leading the UK government's approach to the coronavirus pandemic has fallen to Dominic Raab Credit: PA

He said: "As we reach this two-week point it is very important, I believe, that Cobra now meets again to review the regulations as we are required to do, and to make a decision about what happens next.

"It's important that the four governments of the UK come together to consider the evidence and to decide the best way forward together."

Number Ten hasn't yet confirmed if a Cobra meeting will happen before the lockdown decision is taken.

There's been some public criticism of UK-wide decision-making, particularly when it was claimed (and effectively confirmed by the First Minister) that the leaders of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were overruled when they wanted tougher action on construction sites.

There has been even more concern over what some have seen as a heavy-handed approach by the UK Government over purchasing Covid-19 tests, leading to claims that a Wales deal was effectively gazumped.

Boris Johnson's cabinet before coronavirus prevented physical meetings Credit: PA, Matt Dunham

That shouldn't detract, however, from the fact that UK-wide decision-making IS still taking place, even with a level of dissatisfaction from those involved and the Coronavirus Emergency Act, drawn up by all four governments, is proof of that.

You could even say that Cobra is in some ways acting like a de-facto government of national (that is UK) unity by taking jointly the big decisions like imposing a lockdown and deciding when it will end.

Here in Wales the Labour First Minister has gone a step further and invited the leaders of the two main opposition parties to join the Welsh Government Covid Core group which they'll join for the second time tomorrow (Wednesday).

Adam Price and Paul Davies are emphatically not taking decision and they're not becoming ministers. It isn't the start of a national unity government in Wales.

But they are being given a formal role in Mark Drakeford's handling of the pandemic by having high-level information shared with them and being asked for their advice.

Although both Plaid Cymru and Conservative leaders have said they'd walk away from the group if it limits their ability to scrutinise the government, for the moment at least all sides are approaching the arrangement with goodwill and determination to make it work.

For instance, I understand that Plaid has signalled the questions Adam Price wants to ask and the ideas he wants to pursue in tomorrow's meeting to give the Welsh Government chance to give meaningful answers.

There are contingency plans in place, too, if the First Minister or another Welsh minister falls ill.

Julie James would stand in for the First Minister in that eventuality while Mark Drakeford himself would take over from the Health Minister if Vaughan Gething is incapacitated.

The Prime Minister's illness is throwing the spotlight on how decision-making will change in Westminster in his absence.

But this pandemic has already changed the way decisions are being made at all levels of government.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know